A former president of Penn State University failed to report allegations of child sex abuse against Jerry Sandusky despite knowing inaction could leave the college "vulnerable", according to emails seen by several news organisations.
Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, is currently awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of 45 counts of sexually assaulting underage boys over a 15-year period.
But with Sandusky now behind bars – potentially for the rest of his life – attention is turning to whether there was a cover-up at the university, one that may have allowed Sandusky to carry on with his abuse for many years. Two of Sandusky's former colleagues, athletic director Tim Curley and finance official Gary Schultz, have already been charged with perjury and failing to alert authorities to one act of sexual abuse.
And in a potentially damaging development, former university president Graham Spanier has been cited as another member of staff who knew about allegations of abuse but did nothing to alert authorities.
CNN said on Saturday that it had seen emails in which Spanier discusses with Curley and Schultz a 2001 incident in which Sandusky was allegedly caught abusing a boy in a shower.
The messages reportedly show that Spanier was supportive of the decision not to hand Sandusky over to the authorities, but fretted that the decision could cause Penn State problems further down the line.
"The only downside for us is if the message [to Sandusky] isn't "heard" and acted upon, and we become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier is alleged to have written.
In the email exchange, Sandusky is not mentioned by name, while children that he brought on to campus are simply referred to as his "guests".
The incident being discussed refers to allegations made in 2001 by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant to the football team, who claimed he witnessed what he thought was Sandusky abusing a boy in the showers.
Parts of the email exchanges between Curley, Schultz and Spanier have previously been reported by NBC.
They reportedly show that the three men agreed that it would be "humane" not to report Sandusky to social services agencies.
The latest reported email leak gives further evidence of an alleged cover-up at the university, and could prove hugely damaging and costly to the college.
If staff members are found guilty of hushing up his alleged crimes, it would bolster claims that Penn State is liable for compensation by those abused.
At least one lawsuit has already been filed by a man who claims that college officials failed in its duty of care and neglected to protect him from Sandusky. Many more are expected following Sandusky's conviction.
With $4.6bn in operating revenue reported for the last fiscal year and an endowment topping $1.8bn, Penn State is a wealthy institution, and will be seen as a ripe target by litigation lawyers.
In the one known lawsuit facing the college, the claimant is demanding $50,000 in damage - the standard amount in Pennsylvania's legal system to trigger hearings being heard in front of a jury.
During the Sandusky trial, the court heard from eight victims out of a total of 10 alleged by prosecutors in the case to have been abused. But reports suggest that the total number of victims could be closer to 20.
Financial costs aside, any proof of a cover-up would further damage Penn State's reputation and that of Spanier, who was forced to step down in November following criticism of his handling of the Sandusky scandal.
Watch a CNN interview posted Saturday with Tom Kline, who represented one of Sandusky's victims, below:
Image via Agence France-Presse